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Annual observance emphasizes patient safety, teamwork in health care

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Feb. 28, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —

The importance of teamwork in health care – a process that involves patients, their families and the health care team – will be the focus as the 559th Medical Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph observes National Patient Safety Awareness Week March 8-14.

Started in 2002 by the National Patient Safety Foundation, which merged with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement 15 years later, Patient Safety Awareness Week is an annual event intended to educate patients and health care providers alike on safety science behaviors to improve clinical outcomes, said Jennifer Wetzel, 559th MDS patient safety manager.

“Health care is a team sport,” she said. “Engaged patients who are actively involved in their care and treatment plan are able to identify potential errors. Providers and health care staff must be mindful of system limitations or human conditions that may present the opportunity for preventable harm to reach the patient.”

During Patient Safety Awareness Week at JBSA-Randolph, an educational display in the Family Health Clinic lobby will inform beneficiaries about the ways health care professionals and patients can work together to promote safety, Wetzel said. The 559th MDS health care team will participate in educational webinars and trivia events for prizes.

One of the biggest obstacles to patient safety involves communication among patients, providers and staff, Wetzel said.

“There are many reasons for communication challenges including language barrier, distractions, workload and varying communication styles,” she said.

One way the squadron works to overcome these challenges is to provide training to all staff on Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety, Wetzel said.

Developed by the Department of Defense Patient Safety Program in collaboration with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, TeamSTEPPS is a teamwork system designed to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of health care.

“TeamSTEPPS has been used in civilian and military healthcare settings since 2005 and has been proven to improve outcomes,” she said.

The squadron also works toward the goal of zero preventable harm events to patients, family members and employees by using the principles of “High Reliability,” Wetzel said.

“A High Reliability Organization works to get things right each and every time by building and sustaining a culture that places safety above competing priorities; preventing process, policy, technology and people failures; and reducing the probability that errors will occur,” she said. “Some of the tools we use in the clinic are clear communication, attention to detail, respectful teamwork and exercising a questioning attitude.”

In addition, patients are encouraged to take an active part in their health care, Wetzel said. They receive verbal guidance from the medical team and are provided with informational hand-outs that show them how to become proactive members of their health care team.

One of the hand-outs, “Ask Me 3,” a product of the National Patient Safety Foundation, lists the three questions patients should ask each time they meet with their provider: What is my main problem, what do I need to do and why is it important for me to do this?

Another hand-out, “Team Up For Your Care,” a product of the DOD Patient Safety Program, provides a detailed checklist for patients, from ways to educate themselves and manage their medications to understanding changes in their game plan and offering their own perspectives.

Providing providers with a list of their medications is just one of many ways patients can improve their safety, Wetzel said.

“It’s important to let us know what medications you’re taking,” she said. “If we’re prescribing something new, we want to make sure it’s not adversely interacting with the drugs you’re taking.”

Dr. (Lt. Col.) Brandy Lybeck, 559th MDS chief of medical staff, underscored the importance of patient involvement in their health care.

“When patients are engaged in their health care to include knowing their medication lists, their medical history and working to establish treatment goals, it adds the patient as a key member of the health care team,” she said. “Patients who are engaged and understand their health care goals and history are less likely to have a medical error occur.”

For its part, the 559th MDS is attuned to the needs – and safety – of its patients, Lybeck said.

“Randolph patient safety is a highlight of the Air Force Medical Service Clinical Quality Program,” she said. “We are often leading initiatives and drivers of change to improve patient care at Randolph.”